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ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
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Volume 5, Issue 493: Friday, May 9, 2003
- "Balancing Data Needs and Privacy"
Washington Post (05/08/03) P. E1; Walker, Leslie
The federal Total Information Awareness (TIA) program raises privacy and civil liberties alerts across the country, but even critics of the program see some benefits in the corresponding "privacy appliance" being devised by Teresa Lunt of the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) hired Lunt to develop a system that protects citizens' personally identifiable information from agents without proper authorization, such as a court order or subpoena. Lunt's project was one of the 24 or so projects DARPA chose to fund from a pool of 180 proposals for developing TIA technology. Experts say that any system the size and scope of the TIA is certain to finger innocent civilians as terrorist suspects. ACM's policy committee (USACM) argued as much in a letter to Congress several months ago. But Lunt aims to produce an appliance that would prevent abuse of TIA by filtering out personal details and working to prevent individual identification by inference. In addition to data-cleansing, a sophisticated audit system would track all use of the TIA and protect it from tampering because it is distributed among different independent organizations. Lunt says the combined hardware and software solution would be installed in front of individual databases tapped by TIA and that the technology also has potential for the commercial sector. As information becomes more accessible to companies and government agencies, this type of technology is needed to ensure personal privacy while providing the benefits of increased service and increased security.
For more information on USACM and concerns regarding TIA, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm
- "House Earmarks Billions for Nanotech"
CNet (05/08/03); McCullagh, Declan
The House of Representatives voted 405 to 19 on Wednesday to approve a boost to the national nanotechnology research and development budget, and allocate $2.36 billion over three years to academic and private-sector nanotech projects. The budget would average out to $787 million on a yearly basis, an approximately 10 percent increase over the current federal spending level of $774 million. Attached to the spending bill were provisions that call for the establishment of a National Nanotechnology Coordination Office; periodic reviews of federal nanotech spending at least once every three years by the National Academy of Sciences; the diversion of nanotech funds to academic institutions that serve minorities such as Native Americans, Hispanics, and Asian-Pacific Americans; the commercialization of nanotech through a National Nanotechnology Research and Development Program; and a nearly 50-50 split in funding between the National Science Foundation and smaller federal agencies. The approval of the spending bill was preceded by intense debate over amendments revolving around nanotech-related "social and ethical concerns." Receiving House approval was an amendment from Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) to set up a "nonscientific and nontechnical" citizen's advisory committee to evaluate nanotech's potential dangers. Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.) also advised caution, saying, "I very much want to make sure that we're not turning loose upon the world a molecular atomic kudzu." Meanwhile, Texas Democrat Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee proposed and later retracted an amendment calling for the creation of a "Center for Societal, Ethical, Educational, Environmental, Legal, and Workforce Issues Related to Nanotechnology."
- "Spam Thrives Despite Effort to Screen It Out"
USA Today (05/08/03) P. 1A; Swartz, John; Davidson, Paul
Although the spread of spam, is under attack on several fronts, It continues to flourish: It is estimated that over 2 trillion pieces of spam will be distributed online in 2003 alone. There are a variety of anti-spam solutions with varying degrees of effectiveness, such as spam filters and blacklists, but spammers are constantly probing these safeguards for weaknesses and changing their tactics to fool them, such as eliminating telltale words such as "sex" or "free" from their messages, or using a false return address. "It's a technology war. They tweak this, we tweak that," explains email marketer Laura Betterly. Lawmakers are also taking a stand against spam--the state of Virginia recently passed a law that makes the mass emailing of spam with fraudulent return addresses a criminal offense that carries a maximum prison sentence of five years. However, experts say legislation will do little to deter the escalation of spam from overseas sources. Another stumbling block is disagreements over what constitutes spam. Some consumers, frustrated with the constant flood of junk email, are switching ISPs or dropping them altogether, while certain ISPs are pursuing litigation against spammers. Consumer proponents think the only real solution is a prohibition on spam, and Junkbusters President Jason Catlett observes that the majority of consumers fail to read opt-out provisions when they buy products online. Research firms say businesses spent approximately $100 million last year on spam prevention, and are expected to spend twice that this year. Meanwhile, the productivity cost lost to spam totaled $8.9 billion in 2002, research indicates, and will rise to $10 billion this year. Spam "is becoming as big a problem as computer viruses and worms," says Dennis Bell, director of technical operations at Cypress.
- "Scientists Create Twistable, Ultra-Thin Computer Screen"
Associated Press (05/07/03); Callahan, Rick
Scientists led by Yu Chen at E Ink have created a three-inch-wide flexible electronic display that can be bent, twisted, or rolled up into a cylinder while retaining image quality. The screen consists of a stainless steel foil covered with a thin circuit layer that controls an overlay of electronic ink. The ink is composed of a fluid containing minute capsules that boast oppositely charged black and white particles; the white particles move to the top of the capsule in response to a negative charge from the circuits, and the black particles do the same when a positive voltage is applied. The resulting patterns are arranged into columnar text. Future goals Chen and his team are working toward include adding color to the display, increasing page-switching speed so the screen can support video, and enabling the system to be powered wirelessly. Former Society for Information Display President Aris Silzars says the best applications of such a flexible display may not be immediately apparent, but one of the device's first uses could be as an electronic tablet that attorneys could use instead of laptops. Chen called the new display a "major step forward." He says, "We have cleared a big obstacle in electronic paper development."
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- "Voting Machine Leaves Paper Trail"
Wired News (05/09/03); Glasner, Joanna
Computing experts argue that direct recording electronic (DRE) voting machines should print paper ballots in order to provide an audit trail to ensure accurate vote counts, and Election Systems & Software (ES&S) has developed a prototype that incorporates this feature. ES&S general manager Lou Dedier says he conceived the machine, which is currently in beta testing, on the recommendation of San Mateo Country, Calif., chief elections officer Warren Slocum. Slocum says he was influenced by security concerns raised by a coalition of computer scientists led by David Dill of Stanford University (and endorsed by ACM's U.S. Public Policy Committee, USACM) who are urging voting machine makers and election officials to provide touch-screen voting machines with voter-verifiable ballots. Unlike standard DRE machines, the ES&S prototype produces a copy of a printed ballot after votes are entered; the voter can confirm vote accuracy by studying the ballot, and then submit it. Confirmed ballots are deposited in a box to be counted later. Profit is the primary motivation for the development of the ballot-printing feature, according to Dedier, who adds that municipalities could pay up to $500 to modify existing machines with this capability. Avante International Technology's Vote-Trakker machine also leaves a paper trail, while Joe Richardson of Diebold Election Systems reports that his company would be willing to give U.S. clients ballot-printing capability if there is enough demand for it. Meanwhile, Santa Clara County officials intend to lobby the secretary of state for a paper ballot pilot project to coincide with the installation of DRE machines by Sequoia Voting Systems.
For more information on ACM's activities regarding e-voting, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/Issues/EVoting.htm
- "W3C Blesses, Proposes SOAP 1.2"
InternetNews.com (05/07/03); Boulton, Clint
Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) Version 1.2 is ready for final review by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The basic Web services language is key to enterprise development because it ensures interoperability among diverse platforms. Last year, however, progress on SOAP 1.2 was stalled when two companies, Epicentric and webMethods, claimed their patents were included in the protocol and demanded royalty payments. Both firms have since retracted their claims or left the W3C development group. ZapThink analyst Jason Bloomberg says SOAP 1.2 may be the final version of the protocol. W3C director Tim Berners-Lee says SOAP 1.2 resolves more than 400 issues plaguing the protocol, and that imminent approval should encourage developers to consider projects including SOAP. "While the WS-I [Web Services Interoperability group] was mainly slated with resolving interoperability issues between different Web services implementations, solving these issues in the specification definition process is the best route to go--the more ambiguities that are removed from the spec early on in the process, the better it will be for companies building products for the spec, and for enterprises implementing them," declares ZapThink analyst Ronald Schmelzer. Final W3C membership review for SOAP 1.2 ends June 7.
- "Screen Arcs Widen View"
Technology Research News (05/14/03); Smalley, Eric
Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) researchers have developed Halo, software designed to ease small-screen navigation through the display of arcs on the edge of the screen to represent offscreen locations and objects. "Halo is a visualization technique that supports spatial cognition...by surrounding offscreen objects with rings that are just large enough to reach into the border region of the display window," explains former PARC researcher Patrick Baudisch. "Users can infer the offscreen location of the object at the center of the ring." The curve and translucence of the ring helps users determine the distance of objects and locations. Halo, which was inspired by the arc of light generated by streetlamps, has advantages over other methods to display offscreen information on small-screen devices, including fisheye views, the addition of arrows, and insets, according to Baudisch. He believes that the technique is viable for practical application, and says that PARC researchers are developing versions of Halo to work with real-time and three-dimensional environments. Baudisch also notes that they plan to replace the circular arcs with ovals, which could allow for more accurate distance perception.
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- "Darwin Proved Right by Experiment With 'Alien' Life"
Space.com (05/07/03); Britt, Robert Roy
An experiment by Michigan State University researchers using artificial lifeforms created in a computer proves that evolution follows a Darwinian pattern, in which the strongest entities prevail. Participant Christoph Adami of the California Institute of Technology says the experiment assumes that evolution is a universal phenomenon. Each digital lifeform, dubbed "ALife" by the researchers, consists of a computer program that is allowed to replicate every time it successfully performs a computation. These programs are subject to a computerized form of nature known as Avida, an overseer program that simulates random mutations by installing bugs in the digital organisms. The organisms' descendants can develop pieces of computer code that are completely distinctive from the original code the scientists provided their progenitors in less than a hundred generations. The experiment concludes that complex logical capability cannot evolve unless simpler, foundational mutations are rewarded. The asexual organisms replicate via "binary fission;" in a paper detailing the experiment in the Thursday edition of Nature, the researchers find that "asexuality permits beneficial combinations of mutations to spread even when they are individually deleterious, as sometimes occurred in our experiments." The National Science Foundation supported the research.
- "Beyond Wi-Fi: The Future of Wireless Networks"
ZDNet Australia (05/07/03); King, Ben
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- "Mobile Robots as Gateways Into Wireless Sensor Networks"
LinuxDevices.com (05/02/03); Butler, Jim
Intel is developing hardware and software that will allow researchers to incorporate advanced intelligence into mobile robots that can be used as access points for wireless sensor networks. Such machines could perform duties such as automatic sensor calibration while also reducing power consumption. Intel is currently involved with roughly 20 robotics research groups at academic institutions such as Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), Georgia Tech, and the University of Southern California, and is discussing further collaborations with universities and robotics manufacturers. Projects the company is contributing to include swarm intelligence being pioneered by Georgia Tech's Tucker Balch and an aerial mapping helicopter being developed by Sebastian Thrun of CMU. Intel's offerings to the mobile robot effort include the open-source Linux 2.4.19 operating system, which enables researchers to reduce development costs while leveraging Intel Centrino mobile technology and state-of-the-art XScale microprocessors; open-source software drivers are also key components. The robots' navigational abilities will be boosted by a technical library for constructing Bayesian networks, which Intel has released as a test version. Intel is taking a vanguard position in the industry standardization process for the Robotics Engineering Task Force (RETF), which brings together government and university researchers to homogenize software protocols and interfaces. Standards currently under development by the RETF include application programming interfaces, bridging networks, and robotic command and control.
- "Report: New Battle for WLAN Security"
Wireless Newsfactor (05/08/03); Wrolstad, Jay
Enterprises wanting to deploy wireless network access through technologies such as Wi-Fi have been discouraged by wireless LANs' vulnerability to hackers, though the Wi-Fi Alliance did assuage some fears with the development of Wi-Fi protected access (WPA), and is currently devising an even more expansive solution called 802.11i. However, a Datacomm Research report indicates that the real problem may be caused by the difficulties of tracing wireless hackers, compounded by what Datacomm President Ira Brodsky calls internetworking--the combination of wired and wireless connections and internal and external communications. He says the industry should concentrate on this integration as well as boosting security to keep track of all network users. Encryption-based privacy and network user authentication are the solutions that have emerged thus far. Yankee Group analyst Sarah Kim says users are still dissatisfied with Wi-Fi security, and adds that enterprises deploying private WLANs must integrate security and network management. Brodsky notes that security is even more critical for public WLANs, given how much service providers stand to lose if widespread fraud is committed by intrusions to public hotspots, which number in the thousands. Aberdeen Group analyst Isaac Ro says the success of the Wi-Fi industry lies in the adoption of security standards by equipment makers. "Wi-Fi companies need to keep their eyes open and use a solution that addresses common problems, not one that works only on a single system," asserts Brodsky.
- "Serial ATA II Approaches--Slowly"
PCWorld.com (05/08/03); Arar, Yardena
The Serial ATA Working Group unveiled the specification for the Serial ATA Port Multiplier II at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) in New Orleans. Future ports will be able to support as many as 15 drives thanks to the technology, which is the second Serial ATA II extension to be announced this year; the first extension, for native command queuing, will enable hard drives to maximize throughput by prioritizing data requests by multiple processors. Other Serial ATA II extensions being developed will specify failover switches, support connections of external ATA II drives, and boost bandwidth from 1.5 Gbps to 3 Gbps. This increase could prove critical for servers that run multiple drives via redundant array of inexpensive disks (RAID) technology. Serial ATA Working Group Chairman Knut Grimsrud expects the full series of Serial ATA extensions to be finalized around mid 2003--until then, vendors can embed any or all of the extensions into their own Serial ATA 1.0 offerings. The advantages of Serial ATA drives over parallel ATA drives include less power consumption and less in-case cable clutter. Serial ATA's proliferation is being hampered by a dearth of system support, but Intel's announcement of version 0.95 of the Advanced Host Controller Interface for Serial ATA this week could help remove this obstacle.
- "IBM Details Blue Gene Supercomputer"
CNet (05/08/03); Shankland, Stephen
IBM has embarked on an ambitious goal to develop a supercomputer that can perform 1 trillion calculations per second (1 petaflop) with the creation of the Blue Gene/L system. The machine will consist of 65,536 compute nodes, each of which will boast a two-processor chip with 130-nm features. The processors will not be built from scratch, but rather based on IBM's PowerPC 440GX processor; one node processor will be dedicated to crunching numbers while the other will communicate with the rest of the system. The small size of the chips will reduce the amount of heat output and allow them to be densely packed. Approximately 1,000 nodes running on the open-source Linux operating system will act as input/output nodes and assign calculations to 64 compute nodes running a streamlined custom operating system, according to Bill Pulleyblank, director of IBM's Deep Computing Institute. Blue Gene/L, which will be capable of performing 180 trillion calculations per second, will feature an air-based rather than water-based cooling system, and will cover about 1,400 square feet, compared to the 9,400-square-foot ASCI White. Node communication will be accomplished by employing a mesh network and a branching tree network, and the machine will also feature a third network running 1 Gbps Ethernet as well as a pair of management networks. Blue Gene/L is expected to lay the groundwork for the 1 petaflop Blue Gene/P, which will be used for global climate simulation, financial risk analysis, and protein folding prediction.
- "Reeling Chipmakers Debate Moore's Law"
Investor's Business Daily (05/08/03) P. A5; Detar, James
The chip industry has long regarded Moore's Law--the axiom that the number of transistors on a chip doubles every 18 months or so--as gospel, but several chip manufacturers are questioning its legitimacy, especially in the face of the industry downturn. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing's John Yue declared at the 90 Nanometer and Beyond conference on April 29 that the law is unrealistic, and that a slowdown "would be better for the health of the industry." He explained that a more agreeable strategy is to roll out a new generation of chips every three years so that the industry has time to maximize market growth and squeeze the most out of current chip generations. Altera and TSMC have decided to hold off on rolling out next-generation chips with 90-nm features until 2004, but Xilinx and partners IBM and United Microelectronics are forging ahead with plans to debut 90-nm chips this year. At a Intel event in February, Intel CEO Craig Barrett announced that his company intends to start producing 90-nm chips this year, and follow them with 65-nm chips in 2005 and 45-nm chips in 2007; he felt confident that engineers will find a way to extend Moore's Law. Xilinx CEO Wim Roelandts also believes in adhering to Moore's Law, and said, "The faster we can move to a new technology, the more competitive we are." On the other hand, Altera's Francois Gregoire warned that the rapid rollout of 90-nm chips will result in many defective units and raise costs. Despite calls for caution, the chip industry is still generally following the latest version of the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors, which recommends that leading chip manufacturers migrate to 90-nm processes.
- "'Smart' Hospital to Improve Care"
BBC News (05/07/03)
Scientists at Aarhus University's Center for Pervasive Computing in Denmark are working on several ways to enhance medical care for patients. For example, an "intelligent bed" features built-in computers with sensors that track the patient's position and adjusts itself as needed. The beds also have a screen where doctors can read patient notes, eliminating the need for paper-based notes or handheld computers. To ensure security of the displays, the research team are working on special pens that allow only doctors to get access to patients' data. Dr. Jakob Bardram says the team is trying to incorporate chips in the pen as an identification tool; the security technology is similar to those used by banks. Another invention is a medicine box with an embedded computer the size of a coin. These boxes would indicate to a nurse at the bedside that a box belongs to a particular patient. Finally, the researchers are working to develop computers small enough to insert into the pills themselves, says Bardram, thereby allowing the pill to communicate with the medicine container to ensure accurate medicine delivery.
- "2.6 Kernel to Push the Envelope"
eWeek (05/05/03) Vol. 20, No. 18, P. 1; Galli, Peter
The projected June release of the Linux 2.6 production kernel will help the open-source operating system penetrate even further into the enterprise, according to Open Source Development Lab (OSDL) lab director Tim Witham, who adds that the kernel will boast a threading library and an augmented scheduler. He says the kernel will feature large thread and memory support, better networking performance, and increased storage and types of storage; he also expects the kernel to be ready for commercial distribution within three to six months of its release, if not sooner. IBM Linux Technology Center director Dan Frye reports that his company has tested the 2.5 development kernel on eight-way symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) systems, and he expects 2.5 to transition to 2.6 once enough stability has been achieved and enough defects have been repaired. Linux creator Linus Torvalds has told 2.6 developers that the 2.7 kernel could be opened up by the time the Kernel Summit is held in late July. Features that might be incorporated into 2.7 include complete support for an Enterprise Volume Management System (EVMS) and Non-Uniform Memory Access. Meanwhile, Oracle's Wim Coekaerts says that Linux needs a Logical Volume Manager, while 2.6 will feature a device manager. The global OSDL consortium was founded two years ago to ratchet up Linux adoption in enterprise computing.
- "Let's Talk"
U.S. News & World Report (05/12/03) Vol. 134, No. 16, P. 54; Rae-Dupree, Janet
The latest generation voice-dictation software requires an up-to-date computer to run well and may be too laborious for experienced users to enjoy, but indications are that the software is catching on among users under the age of 20. Speech recognition software has improved its ability to distinguish similar-sounding words, in part by using the context as a guide, and there have been hardware improvements as well--Intel redesigned the Pentium in 2000 to improve its ability to decipher audio input, and the price of computer memory has plummeted. The article's author tested both IBM's ViaVoice 10 Pro USB Edition and ScanSoft's Dragon NaturallySpeaking 7 Preferred, finding them too slow to use on a four-year-old Windows 98 computer but quick enough to use on a brand-new Windows XP desktop. Although the programs became quite accurate after 20 minutes or so of training the software, giving editing commands such as "delete that" or "select" were much more difficult; Dragon seemed slightly more accurate at taking dictation than ViaVoice, but ViaVoice seemed somewhat better at following the editing commands. Although experienced users may decide it is easier to type, the younger generation is a different story, particularly now that technical writer and eighth-grade teacher Karl Barksdale--who composed the last 30 of his 43 books with voice-recognition software--has helped set up voice-recognition seminars for middle- and high-school business teachers. Barksdale's informal group of teachers had trained more than 4,000 business teachers from all 50 states by the end of last year.
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- "Star Search"
CIO Insight (04/03) No. 25, P. 33; Parkinson, John
John Parkinson of Cap Gemini Ernst & Young concludes that, as far back as the late 1970s, the most sophisticated and reliable software applications were chiefly the work of a small portion of programmers who were labeled 10X or Power Programmers, but these individuals fell out of favor when companies started concentrating on boosting the performance of average programmers via tools and methodologies. However, Parkinson has found indications that Power Programmers are staging a comeback, as evidenced by software products such as Squeak, an advanced version of the Smalltalk object-oriented development environment, and the inSORS Grid IP Multicast collaboration and videoconferencing system. Power Programmers are unique in that they tend to disdain techniques and tools of corporate IT and even large software firms, and can rapidly churn out stable code while often ignoring software quality management. Parkinson notes that reliance on Power Programmers does not mean companies should shed themselves of the rest of the programming team. Less proficient programmers are needed for testing, documentation, and other work that Power Programmers will not do, and the performance of Power Programmers depends greatly on how well they are coordinated by project managers. Parkinson believes that companies may have overstepped their bounds in terms of software development performance normalization, and simultaneously increased both the complexity and limitations of software development to the point that accomplished programmers clash with the assigned methodology. He suggests that attracting and holding on to Power Programmers will be a large undertaking that will probably entail an overhaul of management and measurement processes.
- "The Lab that Fell to Earth"
Wired (05/03) Vol. 11, No. 5, P. 122; Koerner, Brendan I.
The MIT Media Lab was once a technology touchstone for popular culture and Corporate America, one that boasted an annual budget of $40 million and enjoyed a steady stream of venture capital. Now the institution is in danger of falling into obscurity: Penny-pinching investors no longer make high financial contributions to the Lab, if any; the facility's hard-science unit, the Center for Bits and Atoms, is lobbying for semi-autonomy; and students are complaining that the Lab's interdisciplinary attitude is being eroded by self-absorbed professors. Current Lab director Walter Bender is trying to draw sponsors by emphasizing the facility's consultancy value, although research projects cannot be controlled by investors. At the same time, he has instituted cutbacks, layoffs, and the reduction of perks--first class travel, free snacks, etc.--though he has promised to preserve the free tuition and stipend offered to graduate students. The Media Lab has set up international branches in Ireland and India, with others planned for Australia, Brazil, and maybe Singapore; however, the Irish center's successes have been marginal, given that living expenses are high and local infrastructure leaves a lot to be desired, according to Irish entrepreneur John McCormac. Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte agrees with Physics and Media group leader Neil Gershenfeld that the facility may need to be split into smaller, more manageable units, but this reorganization has stalled along with the construction of a new headquarters. The hard-science group has also been a source of controversy, as it is undetermined how exactly the unit's research dovetails with the Lab's goal of marrying technology and the arts--Interactive Cinema group leader Glorianna Davenport asks, "How are researchers looking at DNA sensors going to sync with someone who loves making movies and telling stories?" It is unlikely that Negroponte will oversee the Lab's comeback; his role may be filled by the Aesthetics and Computation Group's John Maeda, who believes students should have the freedom to choose their own projects, which goes against the Lab's credo.